Wickman v. Northwestern National Insurance Co.

908 F.2d 1077 (1990)

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Wickman v. Northwestern National Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
908 F.2d 1077 (1990)

  • Written by Sheryl McGrath, JD

Facts

Northwestern National Insurance Co. (Northwestern) (defendant) issued a group life-insurance policy that covered Paul Wickman. The policy provided a standard benefit and an accidental death and dismemberment benefit (AD & D benefit). The named beneficiary was Wickman’s spouse (beneficiary) (plaintiff). While the policy was effective, Wickman had received psychiatric treatment and had mentioned suicide. One summer day while the policy was effective, Wickman’s car was parked in the breakdown lane near an overpass bridge. Another driver saw the car and saw Wickman standing on the bridge, outside the guardrail. The other driver looked away to check traffic, then looked back and saw Wickman falling about 40 feet to the area below. The other driver ran down a nearby embankment to help Wickman. The driver asked Wickman why Wickman had jumped from the bridge, but Wickman did not answer. Emergency personnel arrived and took Wickman to a hospital. At the hospital, an intake secretary asked Wickman to identify his next of kin. Wickman at first declined to answer and said something like “they don’t care.” The intake secretary asked Wickman how he was hurt, and Wickman answered “I jumped off.” However, when an emergency-room nurse asked Wickman what happened, Wickman answered that he had fallen. Wickman died that night. The local medical examiner initially issued a death certificate stating that the cause of death was suicide. A short time after issuing the initial certificate, the medical examiner learned of the emergency-room nurse’s notes. The medical examiner then issued an amended death certificate stating that the cause of death was a fall. Subsequently, the beneficiary submitted a claim for the policy proceeds. Northwestern paid the standard benefit but declined to pay the AD & D benefit, asserting that the death was a suicide and not accidental. The beneficiary sued Northwestern for the AD & D benefit, alleging that Wickman fell from the overpass while disoriented after his car broke down. The parties presented evidence in bench trial, including evidence that Wickman’s car operated properly when it was retrieved after his death. The district court concluded that Wickman’s death was not accidental and entered judgment for Northwestern. The beneficiary appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Rosenn, J.)

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